Indian spices: a history

Throughout history, spices have played an important role in the Indian subcontinent

25w ago

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Spices are an integral part of food. In fact, it's hard to imagine food without them. Whenever somebody hears the word "spices", the other word that comes to their mind is "India".

Somebody once said, "Indian cooking without Indian spices is like baking a cake without sugar!".

Spices are synonymous with India not only because they shape Indian food, but because they have shaped India's history.

Spices and their value

Image via unsplash (Jason Leung)

Image via unsplash (Jason Leung)

Indian spices had enormous value in the Middle Ages. The star of the show at that time was pepper. Black pepper is also regarded as "black gold" due to its heavy demand.

It is also said that one sack of pepper was said to be worth a man's life! But it was not just pepper that was so valuable. In the Middle Ages, one pound of ginger was worth a sheep – and one pound of mace was worth three sheep, or half a cow. WOW.

Spices were in great demand to preserve the flavor of food due to the lack of refrigeration and cold storage.

India as a complete package

Image via unsplash (Andrea Leon)

Image via unsplash (Andrea Leon)

But not all the spices were grown in India. Long pepper, turmeric and different types of cardamom was found in India initially. Then, mace and nutmeg were brought from Indonesia, and coriander saffron and fenugreek were brought from West Asia to be grown in India. As a result, traders thought of India as the complete package. Hence, India was also known as "Sone ki Chididya" (The Golden Bird).

India, Spices and Trade

As soon as the news of availability of spices spread across the world, people boarded their ships and set sail to India. Even Vasco Da Gama came to India for spices. After Vasco Da Gama, a Portuguese expedition led by Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1501 brought spices from India to Europe for the first time through the Cape of Good Hope. What followed was that over half of the revenues of the Portuguese government came from West African gold and Indian spices.

In the 1580s the monopoly shifted to Venice, and in the 17th century it all came in the hands of the Dutch. Then, the British colonized India for spices – and what happened next? You must have learned that in your history class.

Is there any special story about Indian spices that is related to your country?

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Comments (3)

  • Very good. I read somewhere that if you had a one-pound bag of saffron in the 16th century, you were set up for life, it was so valuable.

      5 months ago
    • Hope you are also enjoying your Indian food making experience

        5 months ago
  • If you had a one pound bag of saffron these days you'd be set for life too 😉

      5 months ago
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